NFL officials questioned a New England Patriots locker room attendant as part of the league’s ongoing investigation into allegations the team deflated 11 of 12 balls used in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18. Surveillance footage shows the unnamed individual carrying game balls from the officials’ locker room to another room in Gillette Stadium before kickoff, sources told Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer on Monday.
The league has yet to determine if the locker room attendant participated in any illegal activity, but the individual remains a “strong person of interest,” Glazer said. Ted Wells, who is leading the investigation along with NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash, urged the public Monday not to draw undue conclusions and said it would likely take weeks for his team to conclude “Deflategate” proceedings, according to ESPN.
“We are following customary procedures and no one should draw any conclusions about the sequence of interviews or any other steps, all of which are part of the process of doing a thorough and fair investigation,” Wells said in a statement.
The NFL requires all game balls be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Teams are instructed to submit balls they intend to use for inspection by officials two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff.
Indianapolis Colts personnel asked AFC Championship officials to inspect the Patriots’ game balls at halftime after the Colts’ equipment staff noticed a disparity in the ball linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted during the game’s second quarter. New England used 12 backup balls during the game’s second half, ESPN reported. A subsequent NFL investigation found that 11 of 12 Patriots' game balls fell below required standards of inflation.
As of Jan. 23, league officials had interviewed nearly 40 individuals as part of an ongoing “Deflategate” investigation, the NFL said in a statement. The NFL stressed it had “not made any judgments” on whether New England deliberately engaged in wrongdoing and said Patriots officials had “pledged their full cooperation” with the investigation.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady each denied last week that they had deliberately altered the balls to gain a competitive advantage. Deflated footballs are said to be easier to grip and throw in poor weather conditions, such as those experienced at Gillette Stadium during the AFC Championship.
“I feel like I have always played within the rules,” Brady said during a press conference. “I would never break the rules.”